Tuition up, but competitive

Jackie Mantey

This two-day series looks at the evolution of the cost students and universities are struggling under to pay for a college education and how and why tuition is so high. Kent State has worked to find areas to cut and still stay competitive. The past price of education seems impossible, and the present situation leaves many students finding alternative routes to pay off their debts. But the future could be bright for Kent State and its fellow Ohio universities.


It’s my generation

Decades of students have been struggling to pay their way through college, but years worth of debt now seem like an unavoidable part of 21st century college. Read how and why things are so different and what Kent State is developing to help its students.


Looking forward

Students and families aren’t the only ones feeling the burn of limited funding. Read about how Kent State has stayed competitive and what cuts have been made and where pennies have been pinched to keep tuition at the state average.

The obligation to students to keep tuition within reason has led Kent State’s administration to make difficult cuts in the increasingly tight budget, said David Creamer, senior vice president for administration. The university has also found other ways to save and raise money in order to stay competitive with other institutions.

And until Ohio’s economy straightens up, they plan on continuing to pinch the pennies.

Kent State’s fiscal year budget is determined by a combination of tuition, savings and state appropriated funds. As the latter decreases, Kent State must find other opportunities to pay for its academic, faculty, student and technological needs.

And decreased it has.

According to the Ohio Board of Regents, state support of Ohio higher education in the 2004 fiscal year decreased 9 percent per student.

“They’ve had to make difficult decisions, leading us to make difficult decision as to where to make cuts,” said Creamer who works with the Budget Advisory Committee and presents the final budget to the Kent State Board of Trustees.

Picking up the slack

Time has proven there is not going to be a quick fix.

“There is not one single way to solving the problems, but a variety of new ideas,” Creamer said.

He said they try to focus controlling specific areas, such as technology and energy costs, leading to techniques such as the Combined Heat and Power Project that distributes steam from electricity.

Kent State has also collaborated with other universities to buy discounted products for the university and uses strategic staff layoffs to save money for individual departments.

But those tactics can only go so far.

Creamer said the university has to look at providing the most up-to-date technology, which is hard because what’s new is constantly changing. A large percentage of money must also go toward maintenance, utilities upkeep, buildings and grounds.

The Budget Advisory Committee has started making reductions in the academic departments’ allowances for activities such as copying and supplies. Creamer said this area is what’s squeezed the most.

Funding for salaries has also been a struggle for the committee — $1 million was invested into this area in Kent State’s Operating Budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year. Administrators have reported it’s hard to keep those numbers competitive with other universities to provide the best academic atmosphere for Kent State students.

To stay competitive and keep consumers, the university — like most who are suffering reduced state aid — have turned to graduates.

And fundraising is thriving.

Jacqueline Woods, Kent State Board of Trustees member, reported that fundraising at the end of February was ahead of the same time period last year by more than $1 million.

That increased dollar amount was thanks to an increased total donor count — it more than doubled. The number of $100,000-plus donors had also risen.

These private investments are something the Board of Trustees find crucial to the university’s long-term financial well-being because the cost of higher education is hurting more than the budget.

“It is clearly affecting enrollment,” Creamer said, mentioning that the catch is that the more enrollment, the lower the tuition because more money is raised.

In 2006, Kent State’s eight campuses had about 29,000 undergraduates and nearly 4,650 graduates. The number of new enrollments reached about 7,850. Even with consistently high enrollment numbers, the main campus experienced a -3.92 percent decrease in students, according to reports from Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. That’s 925 less people paying tuition to go to the main campus.

To pump out high numbers of new and retained students in the future, Kent State has created many programs toward developing new scholarships for its students, said Mark Evans, director of Student Financial Aid.

“We recognize that more needs to be done,” said Constance Dubik, associate director of Student Financial Aid.

To date, 500 scholarships are offered by university departments, according to Student Financial Aid. This year’s budget allotted more than $2 million for scholarships.

By helping students and providing competitive scholarships, the university is in turn helping itself by creating an atmosphere for stronger enrollment numbers.

“We find today that many decisions about which school to go to are weighed heavily on scholarships and aid packages,” Creamer said.

Finding a solution

The university has been developing these plans for several years to make up for the declining aid from the Ohio state government. Those dollars are going somewhere else now, depending on the face of Ohio’s newly elected government.

Gov. Ted Strickland’s campaign in November emphasized increasing higher education enrollment.

Turnaround Ohio, a possible Strickland/Fisher administration program, has a goal of 230,000 more Ohioans enrolling in the state’s public and private universities during the next 10 years. The proposal will also prioritize Knowledge Bank accounts that will help young Ohioans start college savings accounts early.

Things could be a little different for the money potentially going toward state institutions’ budgets. It all depends on where Strickland decides to set priorities. Even then, the change in funding is up in the air.

“The initial budget set by the governor rarely ever looks the same when it comes out of the legislature — even when there was a Republican governor and a Republican legislature” Creamer said. The final budget for Kent State will be determined at the end of next semester.

He said a solution could lie in a number of things, including students and press keeping a better eye on federal moves with interest rates and financial aid because those decisions directly affect state money.

“Sometimes federal decisions go by without a big fuss, but they are a huge deal,” he said.

As for now, the university will continue to be optimistic but encourages students to participate in discussion about funding.

They’re not alone. Knowledge Works Foundation, a non-profit Ohio education search group, reported that in a 2006 poll, 80 percent of Ohioans wished to see their state spend more on education. It was a bigger priority than health care and economic development. Three percent said less should be spent on education.

Creamer said decisions made in the past about state and federal funding are not working.

“The actions and solutions presented so far are naive and unrealistic to greatly reduce costs,” Creamer said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Mantey at [email protected].